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"I can't see any flaws in his style. He knows how to use his feet—turn those toes out—and he holds his upper body just right. He rides with a lot of class. That's what I see—class. I'm glad I didn't have to compete against that little rascal."
Murray, who lives in Stephenville, Texas, refuses to say which of the three events he thinks is his best, or which one he prefers. "Other guys take bullriding seriously, and kind of like riding broncs," he says. "Soon as you hear that, you know which one they're going to excel at. Jim Sharp, who's the world champion bull rider, says there's two reasons he doesn't ride broncs: He's scared of 'em, and the saddle's too heavy to carry around.
"It ain't easy to get to this point in all three, I can tell you that. There are a lot of times after I've been slammed and could barely get out of bed, I'd think, Is this worth it? The bottom line is, you've got to love it. And I love all three events. I've worked hard at 'em my whole life. I never wanted to be a bull rider or a bronc rider. I wanted to be a cowboy."
Murray's stats this year are just about the same for each of the rough-stock events. He finished fourth in the saddle bronc standings, with $74,486 in earnings; seventh in the bareback, with $68,450; and seventh in bullriding, with $70,836. With $213,772 in total earnings for the year, he wound up an unheard-of $95,458 ahead of his closest pursuer, Lewis Feild of Elk Ridge, Utah, for the all-around buckle, the most prestigious title in rodeo. "In this sport, Ty Murray is just it" says two-time world bullriding champion Tuff Hedeman. "He's the Bo Jackson of rodeo, the greatest cowboy I've ever seen perform."
Murray has wanted to be a world champion cowboy for so long that he can't remember a time when he wanted to be anything else. His mother, Joy, was a bullriding champion in the National Little Britches rodeo when she was a girl. His father, Butch, who is now the starter at The Downs, in Albuquerque, tried the rodeo circuit for a spell. Then, for the next 30 years, he made a living breaking colts. Butch used to put Ty on calves when Ty was just two years old, running alongside and holding on to him by his belt loops. "When Ty started walking, we got him a pair of spurs," says Butch. "He plumb wore his mom's sewing-machine case out from sitting on that sucker and spurring it."
By the time Ty was eight, he was helping Butch with the colts. At nine he rode his first bull, an 1,800-pound brindle that sort of loped across the arena at a Little Britches rodeo. "I thought I could ride anything," says Ty. "My dad warned me they wouldn't all be like that one." His second bull bucked him off and then stepped on his jaw and broke it. "If I didn't really love it," says Ty, "I'd have gotten out of it right then."
Nine years old seems a dangerously young age to be climbing on an animal weighing close to a ton, but Ty had been around the sport so long he simply had no fear in him. And his father wasn't going to be the one to persuade him to back off. "If your kid was nine and he broke his leg skiing, would you make him give it up?" says Butch. "To me, it was something we could all do together, a family deal, a real positive thing. You don't see many bad kids leading a horse around."
Rodeo prodded Ty's dreams and helped him establish goals. In 1980, when Ty was 11, his uncle, Butch Myers, became the PRCA's world champion steer wrestler. The first time Ty saw Myers's championship belt buckle, he said, "I can't wait to get me one of those."
Murray was 12 when he rode his first bareback horse in a rodeo. "I can't remember ever being scared of a calf or a steer or a bull, I'd been riding them so long," he says. "But bareback was kind of spooky. To me, that's the spookiest event. But it was a thrill."
Mahan first took note of Murray when the Kid was about 13. "He was doing all these exercises behind the chutes at a Little Britches rodeo, practicing some moves," says Mahan. "Then he got on his bull and did the exact same things he'd been practicing. I thought, My god, he's riding bulls better than I did as a world champion. When I heard he was going to compete in all three riding events, that was intriguing. I wanted to meet someone who was as out of his mind as I'd been."